From an early age, Ndidi Emefiele knew she wanted to become an artist, and followed her passion. “My journey as an artist was one that began very early. I was intensely passionate about making and creating in such a restless manner that my actions convinced my parent’s art was a path I needed to follow. Of course, they may have expected my artistic enthusiasm to fizzle out at some point but that didn’t happen. I was always representing my school in art competitions and emerging tops; it just continued from there.”
Today, Emefiele is one of the most exciting names in contemporary art in Nigeria. Born in 1987, in northern Nigeria, she holds a Bachelors of Arts degree in painting from Delta State University, Abraka. Emefiele has also recently completed a Masters in Fine Art at the prestigious Slade School of Art, University College, London. She recalls the challenges she faced while practising as a female artist in Nigeria, how different the scene was in London, her study at Slade and the resulting impact on her work. “In Nigeria, some would easily classify you as a mediocre for being female and inferior to your male counterparts, or spend more time looking for the bad in your work as they believe you are likely to spend less time making art, are likely to be less attentive to detail and less creative. Through my experience in London, I didn’t feel as though there was a gap between the sexes in art schools. How the works of women artists are received is a problem in the art world. There is a gender imbalance at art exhibitions and auctions as the representation of women is considerably low. However, sex did not pose as much a problem in art schools where females tend to be in the majority.” She explains further, “I have experienced a rich mix of cultures; being at the Slade helped me to be more receptive to a vast range of arts, as well as the city of London with its active artistic landscape. However, home is where I draw inspiration from the most. The everyday experiences are what feed my imagination and open up conversations. The different spaces open one up to different perceptions and receptions, which is vital to one’s practice.”
Ndidi Emefiele also reveals that she is inspired by a growing list of artists with specific qualities in their works that she finds herself attracted to. They include; Wangechi Mutu, Kerry James Marshall, Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, Salvador Dali, Frida Khalo, David Hockney and Francisco Goya. Her recent work takes a critical view on how society constructs identity in relation to clothing while defining and confining the roles of gender. Of particular concern is the constantly shifting focus of the female body from a space of endless possibilities to a matter of self-preservation in the face of confrontations from different social, cultural and religious interests. Emefiele uses the constructed images and characters she makes to raise questions about masculinity and feminity and how they co-exist in one being. Though from the south of Nigeria, she also employs the female body in embodying the roles of the male through gestures, clothing and bodily features to deconstruct fixed notions of identity that are prevalent in the north of Nigeria, where she spent 26 years. When asked what various socio – cultural and religious influences permeate her work as a result of the long sojourn. The artist had this to say: “The north played a key role in shaping my thoughts and creating an identity, especially as a child still forming my ideas about life. The northern woman is restrained from actively participating in social, political and religious activities. It’s as though she is constantly forced to hide. Physically and emotionally covered up, she has to grow into a role that is already carved out for her from infancy. It was normal for a while but it didn’t take long before I began to feel a need to revolt using my work.”
Her new work also interestingly incorporates collage with which she explores an obsession with the female body, kindling an interest in items like clothing that are directly connected to the body or have a close relationship with it. In engaging with the cultures of consumption and recycling, she works with a vast range of materials including tulle, compact disks, discarded fabrics and glasses, which are a fixture in her oeuvre, alluding to an incessant need to protect her subjects while trying to maintain a potent gaze. When ruptured, the glasses remain a testament to survival. Indeed, they have also become a mark of Ndidi Emefiele’s identity, as she casts her gaze on the global artistic horizon in an upward trajectory, laden with great promise.
Ndidi Emefiele’s work has recently been exhibited at Art Chicago, 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair in London and the Cape Town Art Fair.